An Old Testament Professor and Creation Care

My name is Sandy Richter and I teach Old Testament. More specifically, I train seminarians. I myself am a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Harvard University’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and I currently teach at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. But most significant to my profile is that I am a Christian.

As a Christian I have always been deeply (and painfully) aware of the impact of humanity’s rebellion upon creation. Although I have been involved in dozens of environmental efforts from the Sierra Club to the Nature Conservancy, I am convinced that one of the most powerful things that I can do for God’s garden is to help mobilize the Church to embrace their role as God’s stewards of the same. Thus, this chance to share some of my thoughts, research, and journey as a Christian environmentalist via my friendship with Matthew and Nancy Sleeth and the Blessed Earth website is more than an honor for me, it’s a calling.

In October of 2005, as a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary I was invited to offer a word on creation care for the annual Kingdom Conference. At that point I had been at Asbury for five years, and was more than eager to share my passion regarding the stewardship of God’s creation. But I was very aware that my word would be the first word that the community had heard on this topic. And as my seminary was located politically in the heart of what have traditionally been conservative perspectives on environmentalism, and geographically in an area of the country that has only recently begun to hear the message of environmental crisis, I knew that this word needed to be free of such perspectives and focused simply on God’s word to His people. So that was my goal. And as someone who specializes in Old Testament, I did not find the message of creation care terribly difficult to address through the lens of God’s word!

I began in Job 38 and 39, where the hero is hammered with a series of questions from on high intended to remind him that he was creature not Creator.

Have you ever in your life commanded the morning, or caused the dawn to know its place? . . . Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or have you walked in the recesses of the deep? . . . Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars … that the eagle mounts up, and makes his nest on high? (Job 38:12, 16; 39:26-27)

I told my audience that when I hear these questions voiced, I echo Job’s response, “surely not I.” I am incapable of such astounding feats. I can hardly understand these things let alone mimic or duplicate them. Only the master of the universe can do such things. Rather, as a daughter of Eve, I am designed to respond to God’s creation with praise for the Creator. So when I stand at the ocean’s edge and feel its raging force bridled by the shore, or listen as the forest leaves rustle in the breeze, or watch the skill and majesty of the hawk as he rides the wind, my heart cries out with the psalmist: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth, you who has displayed your splendor above the heavens” (Ps 8:1). And this is how it should be.

But this is only half the story. It is right that our hearts be moved to worship by the perfection of the sparrow’s wing, the mysteries of the soil, the majesty of the wild creature. But the Scriptures teach us that it is also right that our hearts be moved to obedience—the obedience of creation care.

I was and am well aware that few of us have ever heard this message from a pulpit, and that many remain skeptical that creation care is actually a biblical value. And so I promised my audience that I would tread lightly. And rather than haranguing them with all of the political and philosophical “facts” that have been leveraged in the attempt to turn the tide of the current environmental crisis, I promised to take this topic to the Scriptures. And to simply ask the question: “In light of testimony of the text, where should a Christian position themselves regarding creation care?”

I make this same promise to you. Will you join me in the journey?

Sandy Richter

Sandra Richter is Professor of Old Testament at Wesley Biblical Seminary and Affiliate Professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Harvard University’s Near Eastern Language and Civilizations department. She is a popular speaker and has published on an array of topics. Her most recent book is The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament (InterVarsity Press, 2008).

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